E-text prepared by Charles Franks, Michelle Shephard, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
IN THE HEART OF THE ROCKIES
A STORY OF ADVENTURE IN COLORADO
BY G. A. HENTY
[Illustration: HUNTING DOG SAVES JERRY FROM THE RAPIDS.]
MY DEAR LADS,
Until comparatively lately that portion of the United States in which I have laid this story was wholly unexplored. The marvellous canons of the Colorado River extend through a country absolutely bare and waterless, and save the tales told by a few hunters or gold-seekers who, pressed by Indians, made the descent of some of them, but little was known regarding this region. It was not until 1869 that a thorough exploration of the canons was made by a government expedition under the command of Major Powell. This expedition passed through the whole of the canons, from those high up on the Green River to the point where the Colorado issues out on to the plains. Four years were occupied by the party in making a detailed survey of the course of the main river and its tributaries. These explorations took place some eight or nine years after the date of my story. The country in which the Big Wind River has its source, and the mountain chains contained in it, were almost unknown until, after the completion of the railway to California, the United States government was forced to send an expedition into it to punish the Indians for their raids upon settlers in the plains. For details of the geography and scenery I have relied upon the narrative of Mr. Baillie-Grohman, who paid several visits to the country in 1878 and the following years in quest of sport, and was the first white man to penetrate the recesses of the higher mountains. At that time the Indians had almost entirely deserted the country. For the details of the dangers and difficulties of the passage through the canons I am indebted to the official report of Major Powell, published by the United States government.
G. A. HENTY.
I. TOM’S CHOICE
II. FINDING FRIENDS
III. ON THE PLAINS
IV. LEAPING HORSE
V. IN DANGER
VIII. IN SAFETY
IX. A BAD TIME
X. AN AVALANCHE
XII. THE SNOW FORT
XIII. A FRESH START
XIV. AN INDIAN ATTACK
XV. THE COLORADO
XVI. AFLOAT IN CANOES
XVII. THE GRAND CANON
XVIII. BACK TO DENVER
XIX. A FORTUNE
Hunting Dog Saves Jerry From The Rapids Carry Reads Uncle Harry’s Letter
Jerry Gives Tom A Lesson In Shooting Leaping Horse Mounted, And Rode Across The Stream A Moment Later The Indian Fell Forward On His Face “There Is Another Avalanche, Keep Your Backs To The Wall, Boys” They Went Out To Look At The Indian The Chief Had Shot “No Good Fight Here,” Said Leaping Horse.
“I can be of no use here, Carry. What am I good for? Why, I could not earn money enough to pay for my own food, even if we knew anyone who would help me to get a clerkship. I am too young for it yet. I would rather go before the mast than take a place in a shop. I am too young even to enlist. I know just about as much as other boys at school, and I certainly have no talent anyway, as far as I can see at present. I can sail a boat, and I won the swimming prize a month ago, and the sergeant who gives us lessons in single-stick and boxing says that he considers me his best pupil with the gloves, but all these things put together would not bring me in sixpence a week. I don’t want to go away, and nothing would induce me to do so if I could be of the slightest use to you here. But can I be of any use? What is there for me to look forward to if I stay? I am sure that you would be always worrying over me if I did get some sort of situation that you would know father and mother would not have liked to see me in, and would seem to offer no chance for the future, whereas if I went out there it would not matter what I did, and anything I earned I could send home to you.”
The speaker was a lad of sixteen. He and his sister, who was two years his senior, were both dressed in deep mourning, and were sitting on a bench near Southsea Castle looking across to Spithead, and the Isle of Wight stretching away behind. They had three days before followed their mother to the grave, and laid her beside their father, a lieutenant of the navy, who had died two years before. This was the first time they had left the house, where remained their four sisters–Janet, who came between Carry and Tom; Blanche, who was fourteen; Lucie, twelve; and Harriet, eight. Tom had proposed the walk.
“Come out for some fresh air, Carry,” he had said. “You have been shut up for a month. Let us two go together;” and Carry had understood that he wanted a talk alone with her. There was need, indeed, that they should look the future in the face. Since Lieutenant Wade’s death their means had been very straitened. Their mother had received a small pension as his widow, and on this, eked out by drafts reluctantly drawn upon the thousand pounds she had brought him on her marriage, which had been left untouched during his lifetime, they had lived since his death. Two hundred pounds had been drawn from their little capital, and the balance was all that now remained. It had long been arranged that Carry and Janet should go out as governesses as soon as they each reached the age of eighteen, but it was now clear that Carry must remain at home in charge of the young ones.
That morning the two girls had had a talk together, and had settled that, as Janet was too young to take even the humblest place as a governess, they would endeavour to open a little school, and so, for the present at any rate, keep the home together. Carry could give music lessons, for she was already an excellent pianist, having been well taught by her mother, who was an accomplished performer, and Janet was sufficiently advanced to teach young girls. She had communicated their decision to Tom, who had heartily agreed with it.
“The rent is only twenty pounds a year,” he said, “and, as you say, the eight hundred pounds bring in thirty-two pounds a year, which will pay the rent and leave something over. If you don’t get many pupils at first it will help, and you can draw a little from the capital till the school gets big enough to pay all your expenses. It is horrible to me that I don’t seem to be able to help, but at any rate I don’t intend to remain a drag upon you. If mother had only allowed me to go to sea after father’s death I should be off your hands now, and I might even have been able to help a little. As it is, what is there for me to do here?” And then he pointed out how hopeless the prospect seemed at Portsmouth.
Carry was silent for a minute or two when he ceased speaking, and sat looking out over the sea.
“Certainly, we should not wish you to go into a shop, Tom, and what you say about going into an office is also right enough. We have no sort of interest, and the sort of clerkship you would be likely to get here would not lead to anything. I know what you are thinking about–that letter of Uncle Harry’s; but you know that mother could not bear the thought of it, and it would be dreadful for us if you were to go away.”
“I would not think of going, Carry, if I could see any chance of helping you here, and I don’t want to go as I did when the letter first came. It seems such a cowardly thing to run away and leave all the burden upon your shoulders, yours and Janet’s, though I know it will be principally on yours; but what else is there to do? It was not for my own sake that I wanted before to go, but I did not see what there was for me to do here even when I grew up. Still, as mother said it would break her heart if I went away, of course there was an end of it for the time, though I have always thought it would be something to fall back upon if, when I got to eighteen or nineteen, nothing else turned up, which seemed to me very likely would be the case. Certainly, if it came to a choice between that and enlisting, I should choose that: and now it seems to me the only thing to be done.”
“It is such a long way off, Tom,” the girl said in a tone of deep pain; “and you know when people get away so far they seem to forget those at home and give up writing. We had not heard from uncle for ten years when that letter came.”
“There would be no fear of my forgetting you, Carry. I would write to you whenever I got a chance.”
“But even going out there does not seem to lead to anything, Tom. Uncle has been away twenty-five years, and he does not seem to have made any money at all.”
“Oh, but then he owned in his letter, Carry, that it was principally his own fault. He said he had made a good sum several times at mining, and chucked it away; but that next time he strikes a good thing he was determined to keep what he made and to come home to live upon it. I sha’n’t chuck it away if I make it, but shall send every penny home that I can spare.”
“But uncle will not expect you, Tom, mother refused so positively to let you go. Perhaps he has gone away from the part of the country he wrote from, and you may not be able to find him.”
“I shall be able to find him,” Tom said confidently. “When that letter went, I sent one of my own to him, and said that though mother would not hear of my going now, I might come out to him when I got older if I could get nothing to do here, and asked him to send me a few words directed to the post-office telling me how I might find him. He wrote back saying that if I called at the Empire Saloon at a small town called Denver, in Colorado, I should be likely to hear whereabouts he was, and that he would sometimes send a line there with instructions if he should be long away.”
“I see you have set your mind on going, Tom,” Carry said sadly.
“No, I have not set my mind on it, Carry. I am perfectly ready to stop here if you can see any way for me to earn money, but I cannot stop here idle, eating and drinking, while you girls are working for us all.”
“If you were but three or four years older, Tom, I should not so much mind, and though it would be a terrible blow to part with you, I do not see that you could do anything better; but you are only sixteen.”
“Yes, but I am strong and big for my age; I am quite as strong as a good many men. Of course I don’t mean the boatmen and the dockyard maties, but men who don’t do hard work. Anyhow, there are lots of men who go out to America who are no stronger than I am, and of course I shall get stronger every month. I can walk thirty miles a day easy, and I have never had a day’s illness.”
“It is not your strength, Tom; I shall have no fears about your breaking down; on the contrary, I should say that a life such as uncle wrote about, must be wonderfully healthy. But you seem so young to make such a long journey, and you may have to travel about in such rough places and among such rough men before you can find Uncle Harry.”
“I expect that I shall get on a great deal easier than a man would,” Tom said confidently. “Fellows might play tricks with a grown-up fellow who they see is a stranger and not up to things, and might get into quarrels with him, but no one is likely to interfere with a boy. No, I don’t think that there is anything in that, Carry,–the only real difficulty is in going away so far from you, and perhaps being away for a long time.”
“Well, Tom,” the girl said after another pause, “it seems very terrible, but I own that I can see nothing better for you. There is no way that you can earn money here, and I am sure we would rather think of you as mining and hunting with uncle, than as sitting as a sort of boy-clerk in some dark little office in London or Portsmouth. It is no worse than going to sea anyhow, and after all you may, as uncle says, hit on a rich mine and come back with a fortune. Let us be going home. I can hardly bear to think of it now, but I will tell Janet, and will talk about it again this evening after the little ones have gone to bed.”
Tom had the good sense to avoid any expression of satisfaction. He gave Carry’s hand a silent squeeze, and as they walked across the common talked over their plans for setting to work to get pupils, and said no word that would give her a hint of the excitement he felt at the thought of the life of adventure in a wild country that lay before him. He had in his blood a large share of the restless spirit of enterprise that has been the main factor in making the Anglo-Saxons the dominant race of the world. His father and his grandfather had both been officers in the royal navy, and a great-uncle had commanded a merchantman that traded in the Eastern seas, and had never come back from one of its voyages; there had been little doubt that all on board had been massacred and the ship burned by Malay pirates. His Uncle Harry had gone away when little more than a boy to seek a fortune in America, and had, a few years after his landing there, crossed the plains with one of the first parties that started out at news of the discovery of gold in California.
Tom himself had longed above all things to be a sailor. His father had not sufficient interest to get him into the royal navy, but had intended to obtain for him a berth as apprentice in the merchant service; but his sudden death had cut that project short, and his mother, who had always been opposed to it, would not hear of his going to sea. But the life that now seemed open to him was in the boy’s eyes even preferable to that he had longed for. The excitement of voyages to India or China and back was as nothing to that of a gold-seeker and hunter in the West, where there were bears and Indians and all sorts of adventures to be encountered. He soon calmed down, however, on reaching home. The empty chair, the black dresses and pale faces of the girls, brought back in its full force the sense of loss.
In a short time he went up to his room, and sat there thinking it all over again, and asking himself whether it was fair of him to leave his sisters, and whether he was not acting selfishly in thus choosing his own life. He had gone over this ground again and again in the last few days, and he now came to the same conclusion, namely, that he could do no better for the girls by stopping at home, and that he had not decided upon accepting his uncle’s invitation because the life was just what he would have chosen, but because he could see nothing that offered equal chances of his being able permanently to aid them at home.
When he came downstairs again Carry said:
“The others have gone out, Tom; you had better go round and see some of your school-fellows. You look fagged and worn out. You cannot help me here, and I shall go about my work more cheerfully if I know that you are out and about.”
Tom nodded, put on his cap and went out; but he felt far too restless to follow her advice and call on some of his friends, so he walked across the common and lay down on the beach and went all over it again, until at last he went off to sleep, and did not wake up until, glancing at his watch, he found that it was time to return to tea. He felt fresher and better for his rest, for indeed he had slept but little for the past fortnight, and Carry nodded approvingly as she saw that his eyes were brighter, and the lines of fatigue and sleeplessness less strongly marked on his face.
Two hours later, when the younger girls had gone to bed, Carry said: “Now we will have a family council. I have told Janet about our talk, Tom, and she is altogether on your side, and only regrets that she is not a boy and able to go out with you. We need not go over the ground again, we are quite agreed with you that there seems no prospect here of your obtaining work such as we should like to see you at, or that would lead to anything. There are only two things open to you, the one is to go to sea, the other to go out to Uncle Harry. You are old to go as an apprentice, but not too old, and that plan could be carried out; still, we both think that the other is better. You would be almost as much separated from us if you went to sea as you would be if you went out to America. But before you quite decide I will read uncle’s letter, which I have found this afternoon among some other papers.”
She took out the letter and opened it.
“‘My dear Jack,–I am afraid it is a very long time since I wrote last; I don’t like to think how long. I have been intending to do so a score of times, but you know I always hated writing, and I have been waiting to tell you that I had hit upon something good at last. Even now I can only tell you that I have been knocking about and getting older, but so far I cannot say I have been getting richer. As I told you when I wrote last I have several times made good hauls and struck it rich, but somehow the money has always slipped through my fingers. Sometimes I have put it into things that looked well enough but turned out worthless; sometimes I have chucked it away in the fool’s manner men do here. I have just come back from a prospecting tour in the country of the Utes, where I found two or three things that seemed good; one of them first-rate, the best thing, I think, I have seen since I came out here.
“‘Unfortunately I cannot do anything with them at present, for the Utes are getting troublesome, and it would be as much as one’s life is worth to go back there with a small party; so that matter must rest for a bit, and I must look out in another quarter until the Utes settle down again. I am going to join a hunting party that starts for the mountains next week. I have done pretty nearly as much hunting as mining since I came out, and though there is no big pile to be made at it, it is a pretty certain living. How are you all getting on? I hope some day to drop in on your quiet quarters at Southsea with some big bags of gold-dust, and to end my days in a nook by your fireside; which I know you will give me, old fellow, with or without the gold bags. ‘”
[Illustration: CARRY READS UNCLE HARRY’S LETTER.]
“‘I suppose your boy is thirteen or fourteen years old by this time. That is too young for him to come out here, but if in two or three years you don’t see any opening for him at home, send him out to me, and I will make a man of him; and even if he does not make a fortune in gold-seeking, there are plenty of things a young fellow can turn his hand to in this country with a good certainty of making his way, if he is but steady. You may think that my example is not likely to be of much benefit to him, but I should do for an object lesson, and seriously, would do my very best to set him in a straight path. Anyhow, three or four years’ knocking about with me would enable him to cut his eye-teeth, and hold his own in the world. At the end of that time he could look round and see what line he would take up, and I need not say that I would help him to the utmost of my power, and though I have not done any good for myself I might do good for him.
“‘In the first place, I know pretty well every one in Colorado, Montana, and Idaho; in the next place, in my wanderings I have come across a score of bits of land in out-of-the-way places where a young fellow could set up a ranche and breed cattle and horses and make a good thing of it; or if he has a turn for mechanics, I could show him places where he could set up saw-mills for lumber, with water-power all the year round, and with markets not far away. Of course, he is too young yet, but unless he is going to walk in your steps and turn sailor he might do worse than come out to me in three or four years’ time. Rough as the life is, it is a man’s life, and a week of it is worth more than a year’s quill-driving in an office. It is a pity your family have run to girls, for if one boy had made up his mind for the sea you might have spared me another.’
“That is all. You know mother sent an answer saying that dear father had gone, and that she should never be able to let you go so far away and take up such a rough and dangerous life. However, Tom, as you wrote to uncle, her refusal would not matter, and by his sending you instructions how to find him, it is evident that he will not be surprised at your turning up. In the first place, are you sure that you would prefer this to the sea?”
“Quite sure, Carry; I should like it much better. But the principal thing is that I may soon be able to help you from there, while it would be years before I should get pay enough at sea to enable me to do so.”
“Then that is settled, Tom. And now, I suppose,” and her voice quivered a little, “you will want to be off as soon as you can?”
“I think so,” Tom replied. “If I am to go, it seems to me the sooner I go the better; there is nothing that I can do here, and we shall all be restless and unsettled until I am off.”
Carry nodded. “I think you are right, Tom; we shall never be able to settle to our work here when we are thinking of your going away. The first thing to do will be to draw some money from the bank. There will be your outfit to get and your passage to pay to America, and a supply of money to take you out West, and keep you until you join uncle.”
“That is what I hate,” Tom said gloomily. “It seems beastly that when I want to help you I must begin by taking some of your money.”
“That can’t be helped,” Carry said cheerfully. “One must not grudge a sprat to catch a whale, and besides it would cost ever so much more if we had to apprentice you to the sea, and get your outfit. You will not want many clothes now. You have enough for the voyage and journey, and I should think it would be much better for you to get what you want out there, when you will have uncle to advise what is necessary. I should really think some flannel shirts and a rough suit for the voyage will be the principal things.”
“I should think so, certainly,” Tom agreed. “The less baggage one travels with the better, for when I leave the railway I shall only want what I can carry with me or pack on horses. Anything else would only be a nuisance. As to a rough suit for the voyage, the clothes I had before I put these on” (and he glanced at his black suit) “will do capitally. Of course I shall go steerage. I can get out for four or five pounds that way, and I shall be quite as well off as I should be as an apprentice. I know I must have some money, but I won’t take more than is absolutely necessary. I am all right as far as I can see for everything, except three or four flannel shirts. I don’t see that another thing will be required except a small trunk to hold them and the clothes I have on, which I don’t suppose I shall ever wear again, and a few other things. You know I would only allow you to have this one black suit made. I was thinking of this, and it would have been throwing away money to have got more. Of course, I don’t know what I shall want out there. I know it is a long way to travel by rail, and I may have to keep myself for a month before I find uncle. I should think five-and-twenty pounds when I land would be enough for everything.”
“I shall draw fifty pounds,” Carry said positively. “As you say, your outfit will really cost nothing; ten pounds will pay for your journey to Liverpool and your passage; that will leave you forty pounds in your pocket when you land. That is the very least you could do with, for you may find you will have to buy a horse, and though I believe they are very cheap out there, I suppose you could not get one under ten pounds; and then there would be the saddle and bridle and food for the journey, and all sorts of things. I don’t think forty pounds will be enough.”
“I won’t have a penny more, anyhow,” Tom said. “If I find a horse too expensive I can tramp on foot.”
“And you must be sure not to get robbed,” Janet said, breaking in for the first time. “Just fancy your finding yourself without money in such a place as that. I will make you a belt to wear under your things, with pockets for the money.”
“I hope I should not be such a fool as that, Janet, but anyhow I will be as careful as I can. I shall be very glad of the belt. One does not know what the fellows might be up to, and I would certainly rather not have my money loose in my pocket; but even if I were robbed I don’t think it would be as desperate as you think. I expect a boy could always find something to do to earn his living, and I should try and work my way along somehow, but as that would not be pleasant at all I shall take good care of my money, you may be sure.”
For an hour they sat talking, and before the council broke up it was agreed that they should look in the newspaper in the morning for a list of vessels sailing for America, and should at once write and take a passage.
There was no time lost. Carry felt that it would be best for them all that the parting should be got over as soon as possible. Letters were written the next morning to two steamship companies and to the owners of two sailing vessels asking the prices of steerage passages, agreeing that if there was not much difference it would be better to save perhaps a fortnight by taking the passage in a steamship.
The replies showed that the difference was indeed trifling, and a week after their receipt Tom Wade started from Portsmouth to Liverpool. Even at the last moment he was half-inclined to change his plans, it seemed so hard to leave his sisters alone; but Carry and Janet had both convinced themselves that his scheme was the best, and would not hear of his wavering now. They kept up a show of good spirits until the last, talked confidently of the success of their own plans, and how they should set about carrying them out as soon as they were free to act. The younger girls, although implored by the elders not to give way to their grief at the departure of their brother, were in a state of constant tearfulness, and were in consequence frequently got rid of by being sent on errands. Tom, too, took them out for hours every day, and by telling them stories of the wild animals he should hunt, and the Indians he should see, and of the stores of gold he should find hidden, generally brought them home in a more cheerful state of mind.
At last the parting was over, and after making heroic efforts to be cheerful to the end, Tom waved a last adieu with his handkerchief to the five weeping figures on the platform, and then threw himself back in his seat and gave free vent to his own feelings. Two girls sitting beside him sniggered at the sight of the strong-built young fellow giving way to tears, but a motherly-looking woman opposite presently put her hand on his knee.
“Don’t be ashamed of crying, my lad,” she said. “I have got a son years older than you, and we always have a good cry together every time he starts on a long voyage. Are you going far? I suppose those are your sisters? I see you are all in black. Lost someone dear to you, no doubt? It comes to us all, my boy, sooner or later.”
“I am going to America,” Tom replied, “and may not be back for years. Yes, those are my sisters, and what upsets me most is that I have to leave them all alone, for we have lost both our parents.”
“Dear, dear, that is sad indeed! No wonder you are all upset. Well, well, America is not so very far away–only a ten days’ voyage by steamer, they tell me, and my boy is away in a sailing ship. He is in China, I reckon, now; he sailed five months ago, and did not expect to be home under a year. I worry about him sometimes, but I know it is of no use doing that. The last thing he said when I bade good-bye to him was, ‘Keep up your spirits, mother’; and I try to do so.”
The old lady went on talking about her son, and Tom, listening to her kindly attempts to draw him out of his own troubles, grew interested, and by the time they reached Winchester, where she left the train, he had shaken off his first depression. It was a long journey with several changes, and he did not arrive in Liverpool until six o’clock in the evening, having been nearly twelve hours on the road. Carry’s last injunction had been, “Take a cab when you get to Liverpool, Tom, and drive straight down to the docks. Liverpool is a large place, and you might get directed wrong. I shall be more comfortable if I know that, at any rate, you will go straight on board.”
Tom had thought it an unnecessary expense, but as he saw that Carry would be more comfortable about him if he followed her advice, he promised to do so, and was not sorry for it as he drove through the streets; for, in spite of cutting down everything that seemed unnecessary for the voyage and subsequent journey, the portmanteau was too heavy to carry far with comfort, and although prepared to rough it to any extent when he had once left England, he felt that he should not like to make his way along the crowded streets with his trunk on his shoulder.
The cabman had no difficulty in finding the _Parthia_, which was still in the basin. Tom was, however, only just in time to get on board, for the men were already throwing off the warps, and ten minutes later she passed out through the dock-gates, and soon anchored in the middle of the river. Tom had been on board too many ships at Portsmouth to feel any of that bewilderment common to emigrants starting on their first voyage. He saw that at present everyone was too busy to attend to him, and so he put his portmanteau down by the bulwark forward, and leaning on the rail watched the process of warping the ship out of the docks. There were a good many steerage passengers forward, but at present the after-part of the ship was entirely deserted, as the cabin passengers would not come on board until either late at night or early next morning. When the anchor had been let drop he took up his trunk and asked a sailor where he ought to go to.
“Show me your ticket. Ah! single man’s quarters, right forward.”
There he met a steward, who, after looking at his ticket, said: “You will see the bunks down there, and can take any one that is unoccupied. I should advise you to put your trunk into it, and keep the lid shut. People come and go in the morning, and you might find that your things had gone too. It would be just as well for you to keep it locked through the voyage. I see that you have got a cord round it. Keep it corded; the more things there are to unfasten to get at the contents the less chance there is of anyone attempting it.”
The place was crowded with berths, mere shallow trays, each containing a straw mattress and pillow and two coloured blankets. They were in three tiers, one above the other, and were arranged in lines three deep, with a narrow passage between. He saw by the number into which bags and packets had been thrown that the upper berths were the favourites, but he concluded that the lower tiers were preferable. “It will be frightfully hot and stuffy here,” he said to himself, “and I should say the lower berths will be cooler than the upper.” He therefore placed his trunk in one of those next to the central passage and near the door, and then went up on deck.
The _Parthia_ was a Cunarder, and although not equal in size to the great ships of the present day, was a very fine vessel. The fare had been somewhat higher than that for which he could have had a passage in a sailing ship, but in addition to his saving time, there was the advantage that on board the steamers, passengers were not obliged to provide their own bedding, as they had to do in sailing vessels, and also the food was cooked for them in the ship’s galleys.
The first meal was served soon after the anchor dropped, and consisted of a bowl of cocoa and a large piece of bread. Half an hour later a tender came alongside with the last batch of steerage passengers, and Tom was interested in watching the various groups as they came on board–men, women, and children.
“Well,” he said to himself, “I do think I am better fitted to make my way out there than most of these people are, for they look as helpless and confused as a flock of sheep. I pity those women with children. It will be pretty crowded in our quarters, but there is a chance of getting a fair night’s sleep, while in a place crowded with babies and children it would be awful.”
Being a kind-hearted lad he at once set to work to help as far as he could, volunteering to carry children down below, and to help with boxes and bundles.
In many cases his assistance was thankfully accepted, but in some it was sharply refused, the people’s manner clearly showing their suspicions of his motive. He was not surprised at this after all the warnings Carry had given him against putting any confidence in strangers, but was satisfied, after an hour’s hard work, that he had rendered things somewhat easier for many a worried and anxious woman. It was getting dusk even on deck by the time he had finished.
“Thank you, lad,” a man, who went up the companion ladder with him, said as they stepped on to the deck. “You have done my missis a good turn by taking care of those three young ones while we straightened up a bit, and I saw you helping others too. You are the right sort, I can see. There ain’t many young chaps as puts themselves out of the way to do a bit of kindness like that. My name is Bill Brown; what is yours?”
“Tom Wade. I had nothing to do, and was glad to be of a little help. People who have never been on board ship before naturally feel confused in such a crowd.”
“Have you been to sea?”
“Not on a voyage, but I have lived at Portsmouth and have often been on board troopships and men-of-war, so it does not seem so strange to me.”
“Are you by yourself, or have you friends with you?”
“I am alone,” Tom replied. “I am going out to join an uncle in the States.”
“I have been across before,” the man said. “I am a carpenter, and have worked out there six months, and came home six weeks back to fetch the others over. I have got a place, where I was working before, to go to as soon as I land. It makes a lot of difference to a man.”
“It does indeed,” Tom agreed. “I know if I were going out without any fixed object beyond taking the first work that came to hand, I should not feel so easy and comfortable about it as I do now.”
“I have got two or three of my mates on board who are going out on my report of the place, and three families from my wife’s village. She and the youngsters have been staying with her old folk while I was away. So we are a biggish party, and if you want anything done on the voyage you have only got to say the word to me.”
The weather was fine, and Tom Wade found the voyage more pleasant than he had expected. The port-holes were kept open all the way, and the crowded quarters were less uncomfortable than would have been the case had they encountered rough weather. There were some very rough spirits among the party forward, but the great majority were quiet men, and after the first night all talking and larking were sternly repressed after the lights were out. The food was abundant, and although some grumbled at the meat there was no real cause of complaint. A rope across the deck divided the steerage passengers from those aft, and as there were not much more than one-half the emigrants aboard that the _Parthia_ could carry, there was plenty of room on deck.
But few of the passengers suffered from sea-sickness, and the women sat and chatted and sewed in little groups while the children played about, and the men walked up and down or gathered forward and smoked, while a few who had provided themselves with newspapers or books sat in quiet corners and read. Tom was one of these, for he had picked up a few books on the United States at second-hand bookstalls at Portsmouth, and this prevented him from finding the voyage monotonous. When indisposed to read he chatted with Brown the carpenter and his mates, and sometimes getting a party of children round him and telling them stories gathered from the books now standing on the shelves in his room at Southsea. He was glad, however, when the voyage was over; not because he was tired of it, but because he was longing to be on his way west. Before leaving the ship he took a very hearty farewell of his companions on the voyage, and on landing was detained but a few minutes at the custom-house, and then entering an omnibus that was in waiting at the gate, was driven straight to the station of one of the western lines of railway.
From the information he had got up before sailing he had learnt that there were several of these, but that there was very little difference either in their speed or rates of fare, and that their through-rates to Denver were practically the same. He had therefore fixed on the Chicago and Little Rock line, not because its advantages were greater, but in order to be able to go straight from the steamer to the station without having to make up his mind between the competing lines. He found on arrival that the emigrant trains ran to Omaha, where all the lines met, and that beyond that he must proceed by the regular trains. An emigrant train was to leave that evening at six o’clock.
“The train will be made up about four,” a good-natured official said to him, “and you had best be here by that time so as to get a corner seat, for I can tell you that makes all the difference on a journey like this. If you like to take your ticket at once you can register that trunk of yours straight on to Denver, and then you won’t have any more trouble about it.”
“Of course we stop to take our meals on the way?”
“Yes; but if you take my advice you will do as most of them do, get a big basket and lay in a stock of bread and cooked meat, cheese, and anything you fancy, then you will only have to go out and get a cup of tea at the stopping-places. It comes a good bit cheaper, and you get done before those who take their meals, and can slip back into the cars again quick and keep your corner seat. There ain’t much ceremony in emigrant trains, and it is first come first served.”
“How long shall we be in getting to Denver?”
“It will be fully a week, but there ain’t any saying to a day. The emigrant trains just jog along as they can between the freight trains and the fast ones, and get shunted off a bit to let the expresses pass them.”
Thanking the official for his advice, Tom took his ticket, registered his trunk, and then went out and strolled about the streets of New York until three o’clock. He took the advice as to provisions, and getting a small hamper laid in a stock of food sufficient for three or four days. The platform from which the train was to start was already occupied by a considerable number of emigrants, but when the train came up he was able to secure a corner seat. The cars were all packed with their full complement of passengers. They were open from end to end, with a passage down the middle. Other cars were added as the train filled up, but not until all the places were already occupied. The majority of the passengers were men, but there were a considerable number of women, and still more children; and Tom congratulated himself on learning from the conversation of those around him that a good many were not going beyond Chicago, and that almost all would leave the train at stations between that place and Omaha.
The journey to Chicago was the most unpleasant experience Tom had ever gone through. The heat, the dust, and the close confinement seemed to tell on the tempers of everyone. The children fidgeted perpetually, the little ones and the babies cried, the women scolded, and the men grumbled and occasionally quarrelled. It was even worse at night than during the day; the children indeed were quieter, for they lay on the floor of the passage and slept in comparative comfort, but for the men and women there was no change of position, no possibility of rest. The backs of the seats were low, and except for the fortunate ones by the windows there was no rest for the head; but all took uneasy naps with their chins leaning forward on their chest, or sometimes with their heads resting on their neighbour’s shoulder. Tom did not retain his corner seat, but resigned it a few hours after starting to a weary woman with a baby in her arms who sat next to him. He himself, strong as he was, felt utterly worn out by the fatigue and sleeplessness.
Beyond Chicago there was somewhat more room, and it was possible to make a change of position. Beyond Omaha it was much better; the train was considerably faster and the number of passengers comparatively few. He now generally got a seat to himself and could put his feet up. The people were also, for the most part, acquainted with the country, and he was able to learn a good deal from their conversation. There were but few women or children among them, for except near the stations of the railway, settlements were very rare; and the men were for the most part either miners, ranchemen, or mechanics, going to the rising town of Denver, or bound on the long journey across the plains to Utah or California. It was on the eighth day after starting that Denver was reached.
Before leaving the ship Tom had put on his working clothes and a flannel shirt, and had disposed of his black suit, for a small sum, to a fellow-passenger who intended to remain at New York. This had somewhat lightened his portmanteau, but he was glad when he found that there were vehicles at the station to convey passengers up the hill to Denver, which was some three miles away, and many hundred feet above it. He was too tired to set about finding the Empire Saloon, but put up at the hotel at which the omnibus stopped, took a bath and a hearty meal, and then went straight to bed.
After breakfast the next morning he at once set out. He had no difficulty in finding the whereabouts of the Empire Saloon, which he learned from the clerk of the hotel was a small place frequented almost entirely by miners. Its appearance was not prepossessing. It had been built in the earliest days of Denver, and was a rough erection. The saloon was low, its bare rafters were darkly coloured by smoke, a number of small tables stood on the sanded floor, and across the farther end of the room ran a bar. On shelves behind this stood a number of black bottles, and a man in his shirt sleeves was engaged in washing up glasses. Two or three rough-looking men in coloured flannel shirts, with the bottoms of their trousers tucked into high boots, were seated at the tables smoking and drinking.
“I am expecting a letter for me here,” Tom said to the man behind the bar. “My name is Wade.”
“The boss is out now,” the man said. “He will be here in an hour or so. If there is anything for you he will know about it.”
“Thank you. I will come again in an hour,” Tom replied. The man nodded shortly, and went on with his work. When Tom returned, the bar-tender said to a man who was sitting at one of the tables talking to the miners, “This is the chap I told you of as was here about the letter.”
“Sit right down,” the man said to Tom, “I will talk with you presently;” and he continued his conversation in a low tone with the miners. It was nearly half an hour before he concluded it. Then he rose, walked across the room to Tom, and held out his hand.
“Shake, young fellow,” he said; “that is, if you are the chap Straight Harry told me might turn up here some day.”
“I expect I am the fellow,” Tom said with a smile. “My uncle’s name is Harry Wade.”
“Yes, that is his name; although he is always called Straight Harry. Yes, I have got a letter for you. Come along with me.” He led the way into a small room behind the saloon, that served at once as his bed-room and office, and motioned to Tom to sit down on the only chair; then going to a cupboard he took out a tin canister, and opening it shook out half a dozen letters on to the table.
“That is yourn,” he said, picking one out.
It was directed to Tom, and contained but a few lines. “_If you come I have gone west. Pete Hoskings will tell you all he knows about me and put you on the line. Your affectionate uncle._”
“Are you Mr. Hoskings?” he asked the landlord.
“I am Pete Hoskings,” the man said. “There ain’t been no Mister to my name as ever I can remember.”
“My uncle tells me that you will be able to direct me to him, and will put me on the line.”
“It would take a darn sight cuter fellow than I am to direct you to him at present,” the man said with a laugh. “Straight Harry went away from here three months ago, and he might be just anywhere now. He may be grubbing away in a mine, he may be hunting and trapping, or he may have been wiped out by the Indians. I know where he intended to go, at least in a general sort of way. He did tell me he meant to stay about there, and it may be he has done so. He said if he moved away and got a chance he would send me word; but as there ain’t nairy a post-office within about five hundred miles of where he is, his only chance of sending a letter would be by a hunter who chanced to be going down to the settlements, and who, like enough, would put it into his hunting-shirt and never give it another thought. So whether he has stayed there or not is more nor I can say.”
“And where is _there?_” Tom asked. “It is among the hills to the west of the Colorado River, which ain’t much, seeing as the Colorado is about two thousand miles long. However, I can put you closer than that, for he showed me on a map the bit of country he intended to work. He said he would be back here in six months from the time he started; and that if you turned up here I was either to tell you the best way of getting there, or to keep you here until he came back. Well, I may say at once that there ain’t no best way; there is only one way, and that is to get on a pony and ride there, and a mighty bad way it is. The only thing for you to do is to keep on west along the caravan tract. You have to cross the Green River,–that is the name of the Colorado on its upper course. Fort Bridger is the place for you to start from, but you have got to wait there until you sight some one or other bound south; for as to going by yourself, it would be a sight better to save yourself all trouble by putting that Colt hanging there to your head, and pulling the trigger. It is a bad country, and it is full of bad Indians, and there ain’t many, even of the oldest hands, who care to risk their lives by going where Straight Harry has gone.
“I did all I could to keep him from it; but he is just as obstinate as a mule when he has made up his mind to a thing. I know him well, for we worked as mates for over a year down on the Yuba in California. We made a good pile, and as I had got a wife and wanted to settle I came back east. This place had a couple of dozen houses then; but I saw it was likely to boom, so I settled down and set up this saloon and sent for my wife to come west to me. If she had lived I should have been in a sight bigger place by this time; but she died six months after she got here, and then I did not care a continental one way or the other; and I like better to stop here, where I meet my old mates and can do as I like, than to run a big hotel. It ain’t much to look at, but it suits me, and I am content to know that I could buy up the biggest place here if I had a fancy to. I don’t take much money now, but I did when the place was young; and I bought a few lots of land, and you may bet they have turned out worth having. Well, don’t you act rashly in this business. Another three months your uncle will turn up, if he is alive; and if he don’t turn up at all I dare say I can put you into a soft thing. If you go on it is about ten to one you get scalped before you find him. Where are you staying?”
“At the Grand. The omnibus stopped there last night.”
“Well, you stay there for a week and think it over. You have got to learn about the country west of the Colorado. You had best come here to do that. You might stay a month at the Grand and not find a soul who could tell you anything worth knowing, but there ain’t a day when you couldn’t meet men here who have either been there themselves or have heard tell of it from men who have.”
“Are the natives friendly now?” Tom asked. “In a letter he wrote two years ago to us, my uncle said that he should put off going to a part of the country he wanted to prospect until the Indians were quiet.”
“The darned critters are never either friendly or quiet. A red-skin is pizen, take him when you will. The only difference is, that sometimes they go on the war-path and sometimes they don’t; but you may bet that they are always ready to take a white man’s scalp if they get a chance.”
“Well, I am very much obliged to you for your advice, which I will certainly take; that is, I will not decide for a few days, and will come in here and talk to the miners and learn what I can about it.”
“You can hear at once,” the landlord said. He stepped back into the saloon, and said to the two men with whom he had been talking: “Boys, this young chap is a Britisher, and he has come out all the way to join Straight Harry, who is an uncle of his. Straight Harry is with Ben Gulston and Sam Hicks, and they are prospecting somewhere west of the Colorado. He wants to join them. Now, what do you reckon his chances would be of finding them out and dropping in on their campfire?”
The men looked at Tom with open eyes.
“Waal,” one of them drawled, “I should reckon you would have just about the same chance of getting to the North Pole if you started off on foot, as you would of getting to Straight Harry with your hair on.”
Tom laughed. “That is not cheering,” he said.
“It ain’t. I don’t say as an old hand on the plains might not manage it. He would know the sort of place Harry and his mates would be likely to be prospecting, he would know the ways of the red-skins and how to travel among them without ever leaving a trail or making a smoke, but even for him it would be risky work, and not many fellows would care to take the chances even if they knew the country well. But for a tenderfoot to start out on such a job would be downright foolishness. There are about six points wanted in a man for such a journey. He has got to be as hard and tough as leather, to be able to go for days without food or drink, to know the country well, to sleep when he does sleep with his ears open, to be up to every red skin trick, to be able to shoot straight enough to hit a man plumb centre at three hundred yards at least, and to hit a dollar at twenty yards sartin with his six-shooter. If you feel as you have got all them qualifications you can start off as soon as you like, and the chances aren’t more’n twenty to one agin your finding him.”
“I haven’t anyone of them,” Tom said.
“Waal, it is something if you know that, young chap. It is not every tenderfoot who would own up as much. You stick to it that you don’t know anything, and at the same time do your best to learn something, and you will do in time. You look a clean-built young chap, and you could not have a better teacher than Straight Harry. What he don’t know, whether it is about prospecting for gold or hunting for beasts, ain’t worth knowing, you bet. What is your name, mate?”
“Waal, let us drink. It ain’t like you, Pete, to keep a stranger dry as long as you have been doing.”
“He ain’t up to our customs yet,” the landlord said, as he moved off towards the bar.
“It is a custom everywhere,” the miner said reprovingly, “for folks to stand drink to a stranger; and good Bourbon hurts no man.”
The landlord placed a bottle and four glasses on the counter. Each of the miners filled his glass for himself, and the bottle was then handed to Tom, who followed their example, as did Hoskings.
“Here is luck to you,” the miner said, as he lifted his glass. Three glasses were set down empty, but Tom had to stop half-way with his to cough violently.
“It is strong stuff,” he said apologetically, “and I never drank spirits without water before. I had a glass of grog-and-water on board a ship sometimes, but it has always been at least two parts of water to one of spirits.”
“We mostly drink our liquor straight out here,” the miner said. “But I am not saying it is the best way, especially for one who ain’t used to it, but you have got to learn to do it if you are going to live long in this country.”
“Standing drinks round is a custom here,” Pete Hoskings explained, seeing that Tom looked a little puzzled, “and there ain’t no worse insult than to refuse to drink with a man. There have been scores of men shot, ay, and hundreds, for doing so. I don’t say that you may not put water in, but if you refuse to drink you had best do it with your hand on the butt of your gun, for you will want to get it out quick, I can tell you.”
“There is one advantage in such a custom anyhow,” Tom said, “it will keep anyone who does not want to drink from entering a saloon at all.”
“That is so, lad,” Pete Hoskings said heartily. “I keep a saloon, and have made money by it, but for all that I say to every young fellow who hopes to make his way some time, keep out of them altogether. In country places you must go to a saloon to get a square meal, but everyone drinks tea or coffee with their food, and there is no call to stay in the place a minute after you have finished. Calling for drinks round has been the ruin of many a good man; one calls first, then another calls, and no one likes to stand out of it, and though you may only have gone in for one glass, you may find you will have to drink a dozen before you get out.”
“Why, you are a downright temperance preacher, Pete,” one of the miners laughed.
“I don’t preach to a seasoned old hoss like you, Jerry. I keep my preaching for those who may benefit by it, such as the youngster here; but I say to him and to those like him, you keep out of saloons. If you don’t do that, you will find yourself no forwarder when you are fifty than you are now, while there are plenty of openings all over the country for any bright young fellow who will keep away from liquor.”
“Thank you,” Tom said warmly; “I will follow your advice, which will be easy enough. Beyond a glass of beer with my dinner and a tot of grog, perhaps once in three months when I have gone on board a ship, and did not like to say no, I have never touched it, and have no wish to do so.”
“Stick to that, lad; stick to that. You will find many temptations, but you set your face hard against them, and except when you come upon a hard man bent on kicking up a muss, you will find folks will think none the worse of you when you say to them straight, ‘I am much obliged to you all the same, but I never touch liquor.'”
Tom remained four days at the hotel, spending a good deal of his time at the saloon, where he met many miners, all of whom endorsed what the first he had spoken to had said respecting the country, and the impossibility of anyone but an old hand among the mountains making his way there.
On the fourth evening he said to Pete Hoskings: “I see that your advice was good, and that it would be madness for me to attempt to go by myself, but I don’t see why I should not ride to Fort Bridger; not of course by myself, but with one of the caravans going west. It would be a great deal better for me to do that and to learn something of the plains and camping than to stay here for perhaps three months. At Fort Bridger I shall be able to learn more about the country, and might join some hunting party and gain experience that way. I might find other prospectors going up among the hills, and even if it were not near where my uncle is to be found, I should gain by learning something, and should not be quite a greenhorn when I join him.”
“Well, that is sensible enough,” Pete Hoskings said, “and I don’t know as I can say anything against it. You certainly would not be doing any good for yourself here, and I don’t say that either an hotel or a saloon is the best place for you. I will think it over, and will let you know when you come round in the morning; maybe I can put you a little in the way of carrying it out.”
The next morning when Tom went to the saloon, Jerry Curtis, one of the miners he had first met there, was sitting chatting with Pete Hoskings.
“I had Jerry in my thoughts when I spoke to you last night, Tom,” the latter said. “I knew he was just starting west again, and thought I would put the matter to him. He says he has no objection to your travelling with him as far as Fort Bridger, where maybe he will make a stay himself. There ain’t no one as knows the plains much better than he does, and he can put you up to more in the course of a month than you would learn in a year just travelling with a caravan with farmers bound west”
“I should be very much obliged indeed,” Tom said delightedly. “It would be awfully good of you, Jerry, and I won’t be more trouble than I can help.”
“I don’t reckon you will be any trouble at all” the miner said. “I was never set much on travelling alone as some men are. I ain’t much of a talker, but I ain’t fond of going two or three months without opening my mouth except to put food and drink into it. So if you think you will like it I shall be glad enough to take you. I know Straight Harry well, and I can see you are teachable, and not set upon your own opinions as many young fellows I have met out here are, but ready to allow that there are some things as men who have been at them all their lives may know a little more about than they do. So you may take it that it is a bargain. Now, what have you got in the way of outfit?”
“I have not got anything beyond flannel shirts, and rough clothes like these.”
“They are good enough as far as they go. Two flannel shirts, one on and one off, is enough for any man. Two or three pairs of thick stockings. Them as is very particular can carry an extra pair of breeches in case of getting caught in a storm, though for myself I think it is just as well to let your things dry on you. You want a pair of high boots, a buffalo robe, and a couple of blankets, one with a hole cut in the middle to put your head through; that does as a cloak, and is like what the Mexicans call a poncho. You don’t want a coat or waistcoat; there ain’t no good in them. All you want to carry you can put in your saddle-bag. Get a pair of the best blankets you can find. I will go with you and choose them for you. You want a thing that will keep you warm when you sleep, and shoot off the rain in bad weather. Common blankets are no better than a sponge.
“Then, of course, you must have a six-shooter and a rifle. No man in his senses would start across the plains without them. It is true there ain’t much fear of red-skins between here and Bridger, but there is never any saying when the varmint may be about. Can you shoot?”
“No; I never fired off a rifle or a pistol in my life.”
“Well, you had better take a good stock of powder and ball, and you can practise a bit as you go along. A man ain’t any use out on these plains if he cannot shoot. I have got a pony; but you must buy one, and a saddle, and fixings. We will buy another between us to carry our swag. But you need not trouble about the things, I will get all that fixed.”
“Thank you very much. How much do you suppose it will all come to?”
“Never you mind what it comes to,” Pete Hoskings said roughly. “I told your uncle that if you turned up I would see you through. What you have got to get I shall pay for, and when Straight Harry turns up we shall square it. If he don’t turn up at all, there is no harm done. This is my business, and you have got nothing to do with it.”
Tom saw that he should offend Hoskings if he made any demur, and the kind offer was really a relief to him. He had thirty pounds still in his belt, but he had made a mental calculation of the cost of the things Jerry had considered essential, and found that the cost of a horse and saddle, of half another horse, of the rifle, six-shooter ammunition, blankets, boots, and provisions for the journey, must certainly amount up to more than that sum, and would leave him without any funds to live on till he met his uncle.
He was so anxious to proceed that he would have made no excuse, although he saw that he might find himself in a very difficult position. Pete’s insistence, therefore, on taking all expenses upon himself, was a considerable relief to him; for although determined to go, he had had an uneasy consciousness that it was a foolish step. He therefore expressed his warm thanks.
“There, that is enough said about it,” the latter growled out. “The money is nothing to me one way or the other, and it would be hard if I couldn’t do this little thing for my old mate’s nephew. When are you thinking of making a start, Jerry?”
“The sooner the better. I have been four months here already and have not struck a vein, that is, not one really worth working, and the sooner I make a fresh start the better. To-day is Wednesday. There will be plenty of time to get all the things to-day and to-morrow, and we will start at daylight on Friday. You may as well come with me, Tom, and learn something about the prices of things. There are some Indians camped three miles away. We will walk over there first and pick up a couple of ponies. I know they have got a troop of them, that is what they come here to sell. They only arrived yesterday, so we shall have the pick of them.”
Before starting there was a short conversation between Jerry and the landlord, and then the former put on his broad-brimmed hat.
“Have you seen any red-skins yet?”
“I saw a few at some of the stations the train stopped at between this and Omaha.”
“Those fellows are mostly Indians who have been turned out of their tribes for theft or drunkenness, and they hang about the stations to sell moccasins and other things their squaws make, to fresh arrivals.
“The fellows you are going to see are Navahoes, though not good specimens of the tribe, or they would not be down here to sell ponies. Still, they are a very different sort from those you have seen.”
An hour’s walking took them to a valley, in which the Indians were encamped. There were eight wigwams. Some women paused in their work and looked round at the newcomers. Their dogs ran up barking furiously, but were driven back by a volley of stones thrown by three or four boys, with so good an aim that they went off with sharp yelps. Jerry strolled along without paying any attention to the dogs or boys towards a party of men seated round a fire. One of them rose as they approached.
“My white brothers are welcome,” he said courteously. “There is room by the fire for them,” and he motioned to them to sit down by his side. A pipe, composed of a long flat wooden stem studded with brass nails, with a bowl cut out of red pipe-stone, was now handed round, each taking a short puff.
“Does my brother speak the language of the Navahoes?” the chief asked in that tongue.
“I can get along with it,” Jerry said, “as I can with most of your Indian dialects.”
“It is good,” the chief said. “My brother is wise; he must have wandered much.”
“I have been a goodish bit among your hills, chief. Have you come from far?”
“The moon was full when we left our village.”
“Ah, then you have been a fortnight on the road. Well, chief, I have come here to trade. I want to buy a couple of ponies.”
The chief said a word or two to a boy standing near, and he with four or five others at once started up the valley, and in a few minutes returned with a drove of Indian ponies.
“They are not a bad lot,” Jerry said to Tom.
“They don’t look much, Jerry.”
“Indian ponies never look much, but one of those ponies would gallop an eastern-bred horse to a stand-still.”
Jerry got up and inspected some of the horses closely, and presently picked out two of them; at a word from the chief two of the lads jumped on their backs and rode off on them at full speed, and then wheeling round returned to the spot from where they started.
“My white brother is a judge of horses,” the chief said; “he has picked out the best of the lot.”
“There are three or four others quite as good,” Jerry said carelessly. “Now, chief, how many blankets, how much powder and lead, and what else do you want for those two horses?”
The chief stated his demands, to which Jerry replied: “You said just now, chief, that I was a wise man; but it seems that you must regard me as a fool.”
For half an hour an animated argument went on. Two or three times Jerry got up, and they started as if to quit the village, but each time the chief called them back. So animated were their gestures and talk that Tom had serious fears that they were coming to blows, but their voices soon fell and the talk became amicable again. At last Jerry turned to Tom.
“The bargain is struck,” he said; “but he has got the best of me, and has charged an outrageous sum for them,” Then, in his own language, he said to the chief:
“At noon to-morrow you will send the ponies down to the town. I will meet them at the big rock, half a mile this side of it, with the trade goods.”
“They shall be there,” the chief said, “though I am almost giving them to you.”
As they walked away, Tom said:
“So you have paid more than you expected, Jerry?”
“No, I have got them a bargain; only it would never have done to let the chief know I thought so, or the horses would not have turned up to-morrow. I expect they have all been stolen from some other tribe. The two I have got are first-rate animals, and the goods will come to about fourteen pounds. I shall ride one of them myself, and put our swag on my own pony. That has been a very good stroke of business; they would never have sold them at that price if they had been honestly come by.”
ON THE PLAINS
The purchase of a buffalo robe, blankets, boots, and a Colt’s revolver occupied but a short time, but the rifle was a much more difficult matter.
“You can always rely upon a Colt,” the miner said, “but rifles are different things; and as your life may often depend upon your shooting-iron carrying straight, you have got to be mighty careful about it. A gun that has got the name of being a good weapon will fetch four times as much as a new one.”
Denver was but a small place; there was no regular gunsmith’s shop, but rifles and pistols were sold at almost every store in the town. In this quest Jerry was assisted by Pete Hoskings, who knew of several men who would be ready to dispose of their rifles. Some of these weapons were taken out into the country and tried at marks by the two men. They made what seemed to Tom wonderful shooting, but did not satisfy Hoskings.
“I should like the youngster to have a first-rate piece,” he said, “and I mean to get him one if I can. There are two of these would do if we can’t get a better, but if there is a first-rate one to be had in this township I will have it.” Suddenly he exclaimed, “I must have gone off my head, and be going downright foolish! Why, I know the very weapon. You remember Billy the scout?”
“In course I do, everyone knew him. I heard he had gone down just before I got back here.”
“That is so, Jerry. You know he had a bit of a place up in the hills, four or five miles from here, where he lived with that Indian wife of his when he was not away. I went out to see him a day or two afore he died. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said no, his squaw would get on well enough there. She had been alone most of her time, and would wrestle on just as well when he had gone under. He had a big garden-patch which she cultivated, and brought the things down into the town here. They always fetch a good price. Why more people don’t grow them I can’t make out; it would pay better than gold-seeking, you bet. He had a few hundred dollars laid by, and he said they might come in handy to her if she fell sick, or if things went hard in winter. Well, you remember his gun?”
“In course–his gun was nigh as well known as Billy himself. He used to call it Plumb-centre. You don’t mean to say she hasn’t sold it?”
“She hasn’t; at least I should have been sure to hear if she had. I know several of the boys who went to the funeral wanted to buy it, and offered her long prices for it too; but she wouldn’t trade. I will ride over there this evening and see what I can do about it. She will sell to me if she sells to anyone, for she knows I was a great chum of Billy’s, and I have done her a few good turns. She broke her leg some years back when he was away, and luckily enough I chanced to ride over there the next day. Being alone and without anyone to help, she would have got on badly. I sent a surgeon up to her, and got a redskin woman to go up to nurse her. I don’t wonder she did not like to sell Billy’s piece, seeing he was so famous with it, and I feel sure money would not do it; but perhaps I can talk her into it.”
The next morning the articles agreed upon as the price of the horses were packed on Jerry’s pony, and they went out to the meeting-place.
“It is twenty minutes early,” Jerry said, as Tom consulted his watch, “and the red-skins won’t be here till it is just twelve o’clock. A red-skin is never five minutes before or five minutes after the time he has named for a meeting. It may have been set six months before, and at a place a thousand miles away, but just at the hour, neither before nor after, he will be there. A white man will keep the appointment; but like enough he will be there the night before, will make his camp, sleep, and cook a meal or two, but he does not look for the red-skin till exactly the hour named, whether it is sunrise or sunset or noon. Red-skins ain’t got many virtues,–least there ain’t many of them has, though I have known some you could trust all round as ready as any white man,–but for keeping an appintment they licks creation.”
A few minutes before twelve o’clock three Indians were seen coming down the valley on horseback. They were riding at a leisurely pace, and it was exactly the hour when they drew rein in front of Tom and his companion. Jerry had already unloaded his pony and had laid out the contents of the pack. First he proceeded to examine the two ponies, to make sure that they were the same he had chosen.
“That is all right,” he said; “they would hardly have tried to cheat us over that–they would know that it would not pay with me. There, chief, is your exchange. You will see that the blankets are of good quality. There is the keg of powder, the bar of lead, ten plugs of tobacco, the cloth for the squaws, and all the other things agreed on.”
The chief examined them carefully, and nodded his satisfaction. “If all the pale-faces dealt as fairly with the red man as you have done there would not be so much trouble between them,” he said.
“That is right enough, chief; it can’t be gainsaid that a great many, ay, I might say the most part, of the traders are rogues. But they would cheat us just the same as they would you, and often do take us in. I have had worthless goods passed off on me many a time; and I don’t blame you a bit if you put a bullet into the skull of a rogue who has cheated you, for I should be mightily inclined to do the same myself.”
No more words were wasted; the lads who had ridden the ponies down made up the goods in great bundles and went up the valley with their chief, while Jerry and Tom took the plaited leather lariats which were round the ponies’ necks and returned to Denver. A saddle of Mexican pattern, with high peak and cantle, massive wooden framework, huge straps and heavy stirrups, was next bought. Jerry folded a horse-rug and tried it in different positions on the horse’s back until the saddle fitted well upon it.
“That is the thing that you have got to be most particular about, Tom. If the saddle does not sit right the horse gets galled, and when a horse once gets galled he ain’t of much use till he is well again, though the Indians ride them when they are in a terrible state; but then they have got so many horses that, unless they are specially good, they don’t hold them of any account. You see the saddle is so high that there is good space between it and the backbone, and the pressure comes fair on the ribs, so the ponies don’t get galled if the blankets are folded properly. The Indians do not use saddles, but ride either on a pad or just a folded blanket, and their ponies are always getting galled.”
“The saddle is tremendously heavy.”
“It is heavy, but a few pounds don’t make much difference to the horse one way or the other, so that he is carrying it comfortably. The saddles would be no good if they were not made strong, for a horse may put his foot in a hole and come down head over heels, or may tumble down a precipice, and the saddle would be smashed up if it were not pretty near as strong as cast-iron. Out on the plains a man thinks as much of his saddle as he does of his horse, and more. If his horse dies he will put the saddle on his head and carry it for days rather than part with it, for he knows he won’t be long before he gets a horse again. He can buy one for a few charges of powder and ball from the first friendly Indians he comes across, or he may get one given to him if he has nothing to exchange for it, or if he comes across a herd of wild horses he can crease one.”
“What is creasing a horse?” Tom asked.
“Well, it is a thing that wants a steady hand, for you have got to hit him just on the right spot–an inch higher, you will miss him; half an inch lower, you will kill him. You have got to put a bullet through his neck two or three inches behind the ears and just above the spine. Of course if you hit the spine you kill him, and he is no good except to give you a meal or two if you are hard-up for food; but if the ball goes through the muscles of the neck, just above the spine, the shock knocks him over as surely as if you had hit him in the heart. It stuns him, and you have only got to run up and put your lariat round his neck, and be ready to mount him as soon as he rises, which he will do in two or three minutes, and he will be none the worse for the shock; in fact you will be able to break him in more easily than if you had caught him by the rope.”
Jerry then adjusted his own saddle to the other Indian horse.
“Can you ride?” he asked.
“No, I have never had any chance of learning at home.”
“Well, you had better have a lesson at once. This is a good way for a beginner;” and he took a blanket, and having rolled it up tightly, strapped it over the peak of the saddle and down the flaps.
“There,” he said. “You get your knees against that, and what with the high peak and the high cantle you can hardly be chucked out anyhow, that is, if the horse does not buck; but I will try him as to that before you mount. We will lead them out beyond the town, we don’t want to make a circus of ourselves in the streets; besides, if you get chucked, you will fall softer there than you would on the road. But first of all we will give them a feed of corn. You see they are skeary of us at present. Indian horses are always afraid of white men at first, just as white men’s horses are afraid of Indians. A feed of corn will go a long way towards making us good friends, for you may be sure they have never had a feed in their lives beyond what they could pick up for themselves.”
The horses snuffed the corn with some apprehension when it was held out towards them, backing away from the sieves with their ears laid back; but seeing that no harm came to them they presently investigated the food more closely, and at last took a mouthful, after which they proceeded to eat greedily, their new masters patting their necks and talking to them while they did so. Then their saddles and bridles were put on, and they were led out of the stable and along the streets. At first they were very fidgety and wild at the unaccustomed sights and sounds, but their fear gradually subsided, and by the time they were well in the country they went along quietly enough.
“Now you hold my horse, Tom, and I will try yours.”
Jerry mounted and galloped away; in ten minutes he returned.
“He will do,” he said as he dismounted. “He is fresh yet and wants training. I don’t suppose he has been ridden half a dozen times, but with patience and training he will turn out a first-rate beast. I could see they were both fast when those boys rode them. I don’t wonder the chief asked what, for an Indian pony, was a mighty long price, though it was cheap enough for such good animals. He must have two or three uncommon good ones at home or he would never have parted with them, for when an Indian gets hold of an extra good pony no price will tempt him to sell it, for a man’s life on the plains often depends on the speed and stay of his horse. Now, I will take a gallop on my own, and when I come back you can mount and we will ride on quietly together.
“There is not much difference between them,” he said on his return. “Yours is a bit faster. Pete told me to get you the best horse I could find, and I fixed upon yours, directly my eye fell upon him, as being the pick of the drove. But this is a good one too, and will suit me as well as yours, for he is rather heavier, and will carry me better than yours would do on a long journey. Now climb up into your saddle.”
Jerry laughed at the difficulty Tom had in lifting his leg over the high cantle. “You will have to practise presently putting your hands on the saddle and vaulting into it. Half a minute in mounting may make all the difference between getting away and being rubbed out. When you see the red-skins coming yelling down on you fifty yards away, and your horse is jumping about as scared as you are, it is not an easy matter to get on to its back if you have got to put your foot in the stirrup first. You have got to learn to chuck yourself straight into your seat whether you are standing still or both on the run. There, how do you feel now?”
“I feel regularly wedged into the saddle.”
“That is right. I will take up the stirrups a hole, then you will get your knees firmer against the blanket. It is better to learn to ride without it, even if you do get chucked off a few times, but as we start to-morrow you have no time for that. In a few days, when you get at home in the saddle, we will take off the blanket, and you have got to learn to hold on by your knees and by the balance of your body. Now we will be moving on.”
As soon as the reins were slackened the horses started together at an easy canter.
“That is their pace,” Jerry said. “Except on a very long journey, when he has got squaws and baggage with him, a red-skin never goes at a walk, and the horses will keep on at this lope for hours. That is right. Don’t sit so stiffly; you want your legs to be stiff and keeping a steady grip, but from your hips you want to be as slack as possible, just giving to the horse’s action, the same way you give on board ship when vessels are rolling. That is better. Ah! here comes Pete. I took this way because I knew it was the line he would come back by–and, by gosh, he has got the rifle, sure enough!”
Pete had seen them, and was waving the gun over his head.
“I’ve got it,” he said as he reined up his horse when he met them. “It was a stiff job, for she did not like to part with it. I had to talk to her a long time. I put it to her that when she died the gun would have to go to someone, and I wanted it for a nephew of Straight Harry, whom she knew well enough; that it was for a young fellow who was safe to turn out a great hunter and Indian fighter like her husband, and that he would be sure to do credit to Plumb-centre, and make the gun as famous in his hands as it had been in her husband’s. That fetched her. She said I had been kind to her, and though she could not have parted with the gun for money, she would do it, partly to please me, and partly because she knew that Straight Harry had been a friend of her husband’s, and had fought by his side, and that the young brave I spoke of, would be likely to do credit to Plumb-centre. Her husband, she said, would be glad to know that it was in such good hands. So she handed it over to me. She would not hear of taking money for it; indeed, I did not press it, knowing that she would feel that it was almost a part of her husband; but I will make it up to her in other ways. There, Tom; there is as good a shooting-iron as there is in all the territories.”
“Thank you very much indeed, Pete. I shall value it immensely, and I only hope that some day I shall be able to do credit to it, as the poor woman said.”
There was nothing particular in the appearance of the rifle. It was a plainly-finished piece, with a small bore and heavy metal.
“It don’t look much,” Jerry said, “but it is a daisy, you bet.”
“We will try a shot with it, Jerry. She gave me the bag of bullets and a box of patches and his powder-horn with it. We will see what it will do in our hands, we are both pretty good shots.”
He loaded the rifle carefully.
“You see that bit of black rock cropping out of the hill-side. I guess it is about two hundred and fifty yards away, and is about the size a red-skin’s head would be if he were crawling through the grass towards us. Will you shoot first or shall I?”
“Fire away, Pete.”
Hoskings took a steady aim and fired.
“You have hit it,” Jerry exclaimed. “Just grazed it at the top.”
They walked across to the rock; there was a chip just on the top.
“It was a good shot, Pete; especially considering how you are out of practice. If it had been a red-skin it would have stunned him sure, for I doubt whether it is not too high by a quarter of an inch or so, to have finished him altogether.”
[Illustration: JERRY GIVES TOM A LESSON IN SHOOTING.]
“It would have cut his top-knot off, Jerry, and that is all. I doubt whether it would have even touched his skin.”
They returned to the spot where Pete had fired, and Jerry threw himself down on the grass and levelled his rifle.
“That is not fair, Jerry,” Pete protested.
“It would not be fair if I was shooting against you, but we are only trying the rifle, and if that rock were a red-skin you may be sure that I should be lying down.”
He fired: and on going to the stone again they found that the bullet had struck it fair, within an inch of its central point.
“That is something like a rifle,” Jerry said delighted. “Now, Tom, you shall have a shot.”
As they walked to the shooting-point, Jerry showed the lad how to hold the rifle, instructed him as to the backsight, and showed him how to get the foresight exactly on the nick of the backsight. “You must just see the bead as if it were resting in the nick, and the object you aim at must just show above the top point of the bead.” He showed him how to load, and then told him to lie down, as he had done, on his chest, and to steady the rifle with the left arm, the elbow being on the ground. “You must be quite comfortable,” he said; “it is of no use trying to shoot if you are in a cramped position. Now, take a steady aim, and the moment you have got the two sights in a line on the rock, press the trigger steadily. Press pretty hard; it is only a pull of about two pounds, but it is wonderful how stiff a trigger feels the first time you pull at it. You need not be at all afraid of the kick. If you press the butt tightly against your shoulder you will hardly feel it, for there is plenty of weight in the barr’l, and it carries but a small charge of powder. You won’t want to shoot at anything much beyond this range, but sometimes you may have to try at four or five hundred yards when you are in want of a dinner. In that case you can put in a charge and a half of powder. Now, are you comfortable? You need not grip so hard with your left hand, the gun only wants to rest between your thumb and fingers. That is better. Now take a steady aim, and the moment you have got it press the trigger. Well done! that is a good shot for a first. You hit the dust an inch or two to the right of the stone. If it had been a red-skin you would have hit him in the shoulder. You will do, lad, and by the time we get to Fort Bridger I guess you will bring down a stag as clean as nine out of ten hunters.”
“Don’t get into the way of waiting too long before you fire, Tom,” Pete Hoskings said. “Better to try to shoot too quick to begin with than to be too long about it. When you have made up your mind that you are going to shoot, get your bead on your mark and fire at once. You may want to hit a red-skin’s head as he looks out from behind a tree, and to do that you must fire the instant you see him or he will be in again. One of the best shots I ever saw never used to raise his gun to his shoulder at all. He just dropped his piece into the hollow of his left hand, and would fire as he touched it. He did not seem to take any aim at all, but his bullet was sartin to hit the thing he wanted to, even if it were no bigger than an orange. He could not tell himself how he did it. ‘I seen the thing and I fired, Pete,’ he would say; ‘the gun seems to point right of its own accord, I have not anything to say to it.’ You see, shooting is a matter of eye. Some men may shoot all their lives, and they will never be more than just respectable, while others shoot well the first time that a gun is put in their hands. Want of nerve is what spoils half men’s shooting; that and taking too long an aim. Well, it is time for us to be mounting and getting back. I have got to see that the dinner is all ready. I never can trust that black scoundrel, Sam, to do things right while I am away.”
The preparations for the journey were completed by the evening.
“Now mind, Tom,” Pete Hoskings said the last thing before going to bed, “if you don’t find your uncle, or if you hear that he has got wiped out, be sure you come right back here. Whether you are cut out for a hunter or not, it will do you a world of good to stick to the life until you get four or five years older and settle as to how you like to fix yourself, for there ain’t no better training than a few years out on the plains, no matter what you do afterwards. I will find a good chum for you, and see you through it, both for the sake of my old mate, Straight Harry, and because I have taken a liking to you myself.”
“Why do you call my uncle Straight Harry?” Tom asked, after thanking Pete for his promise. “Is he so very upright?”
“No, lad, no; it ain’t nothing to do with that. There are plenty more erect men than him about. He is about the size of Jerry, though, maybe a bit taller. No; he got to be called Straight Harry because he was a square man, a chap everyone could trust. If he said he would do a thing he would do it; there weren’t no occasion for any papers to bind him. When he said a thing you could bet on it. You could buy a mine on his word: if he said it was good you need not bother to take a journey to look at it, you knew it was right there, and weren’t a put-up job. Once when we were working down on the Yuba we got to a place where there were a fault in the rock, and the lode had slipped right away from us. Everyone in camp knew that we had been doing well, and we had only got to pile up a few pieces of rock at the bottom, and no one who would have seen it would have known that the lode was gone. That is what most chaps would have done, and a third chap who was working with us was all for doing it. Anyone would have given us five hundred ounces for it. Well, I didn’t say nothing, it was what pretty nigh anyone on the mines would have done if he had the chance, but Harry turned on our partner like a mountain lion. ‘You are a mean skunk, New Jersey’ says he. ‘Do you think that I would be one to rob a man only because he would be fool enough to take a place without looking at it? We’ve worked to the edge of the claim both ways, and I don’t reckon there is a dollar’s worth of gold left in it, now that it has pettered out at the bottom, and if there was I would not work another day with a man who proposed to get up a swindle.’ So as soon as he got up to the surface he told everyone that the lode had gone out and that the claim weren’t worth a red cent. He and New Jersey had a big fight with fists that evening. The other was bigger than Harry, and stronger, but he were no hand with his pistol, and Harry is a dead shot; so he told New Jersey he would fight him English fashion, and Harry gave him the biggest licking I ever saw a man have. I felt pretty mean myself, you bet, for having thought of planting the thing off; but as I hadn’t spoken, Harry knew nothing about it. If he had, I doubt if he would ever have given me his hand again. Yes, sir, he is a straight man all round, and there is no man better liked than Harry. Why, there are a score of men in this town who know him as I do, and, if he came to them and said, ‘I have struck it rich, I will go halves with you if you will plank down twenty thousand dollars to open her up,’ they would pay down the cash without another word; and, I tell you, there ain’t ten men west of the Missouri of whom as much could be said.”
The next morning at daybreak Jerry and Tom started. They rode due north, skirting the foot of the hills, till they reached the emigrant route, for the railway had not been carried farther than Wabash, from which point it ran south to Denver. It was a journey of some five hundred miles to Fort Bridger, and they took a month to accomplish it, sometimes following the ordinary line of travel, sometimes branching off more to the north, where game was still abundant.
“That is Fort Bridger, Tom. It ain’t much of a place to look at; but is, like all these forts, just a strong palisading, with a clump of wooden huts for the men in the middle. Well, the first stage of your journey is over, and you know a little more now than when you left Denver; but though I have taught you a good bit, you will want another year’s practice with that shooting-iron afore you’re a downright good shot; but you have come on well, and the way you brought down that stag on a run yesterday was uncommon good. You have made the most of your opportunities, and have got a steady hand and a good eye. You are all right on your horse now, and can be trusted to keep your seat if you have a pack of red-skins at your heels. You have learnt to make a camp, and to sleep comfortable on the ground; you can frizzle a bit of deer-flesh over the fire, and can bake bread as well as a good many. Six months of it and you will be a good plain’s-man. I wish we had had a shot at buffalo. They are getting scarcer than they were, and do not like crossing the trail. We ain’t likely to see many of them west of the Colorado; the ground gets too hilly for them, and there are too many bad lands.”
“What are bad lands, Jerry?”
“They are just lands where Nature, when she made them, had got plenty of rock left, but mighty little soil or grass seed. There are bad lands all over the country, but nowhere so bad as the tract on both sides of the Green and Colorado rivers. You may ride fifty miles any way over bare rock without seeing a blade of grass unless you get down into some of the valleys, and you may die of thirst with water under your feet.”
“How do you mean, Jerry?”
“The rivers there don’t act like the rivers in other parts. Instead of working round the foot of the hills they just go through them. You ride along on what seems to be a plain, and you come suddenly to a crack that ain’t perhaps twenty or thirty feet across, and you look down, if you have got head enough to do it, and there, two thousand feet or more below you, you see a river foaming among rocks. It ain’t one river or it ain’t another river as does it; every little stream from the hills cuts itself its canon and makes its way along till it meets two or three others, then they go on together, cutting deeper and deeper until they run into one of the arms of the Green River or the Colorado or the Grand.
“The Green and the Colorado are all the same river, only the upper part is called the Green. For about a thousand miles it runs through great canons. No one has ever gone down them, and I don’t suppose anyone ever will; and people don’t know what is the course of the river from the time it begins this game till it comes out a big river on the southern plains. You see, the lands are so bad there is no travelling across them, and the rapids are so terrible that there is no going down them. Even the Indians never go near the canons if they can help it. I believe they think the whole thing is the work of an evil spirit.”
“But you said some of the valleys had grass?”
“Yes; I have gone down one or two myself from the mountains of Utah, where the stream, instead of cutting a canon for itself, has behaved for a bit in the ordinary way and made a valley. Wonderfully good places they were–plenty of grass, plenty of water, and no end of game. I have spent some months among them, and got a wonderful lot of skins, beavers principally of course, but half a dozen mountain lions and two grizzlies. I did not bring home their skins, you bet. They were too heavy, and I should not have troubled them if they had not troubled me. There was good fish, too, in the streams, and I never had a better time. The red-skins happened to be friendly, and I was with a hunter who had a red-skin wife and a dozen ponies. If it hadn’t been for that I should soon have had to quit, for it ain’t no good hunting if you can’t carry away the skins. As it was I made a good job of it, for I got nigh a thousand dollars for my skins at Utah.
“Well, here we are at the fort. I guess we may as well make our camp outside. If you go in you have got to picket your horse here and put your baggage there and come in at gun-fire, and all sorts of things that troubles a man who is accustomed to act as he likes.”
The horses were soon picketed. “I will go in first and see who is here, Tom. There are usually a lot of loafing Indians about these forts, and though it is safe enough to leave our traps, out on the plain, it will not do here. We must stay with them, or at any rate keep them in sight; besides, these two horses would be a temptation to any redskin who happened to want an animal.”
“I will wait willingly, Jerry; I should know nobody inside the fort if I went in. I will see to making a fire and boiling the kettle, and I will have supper ready at seven o’clock.”
“I shall be sure to be back by that time; like enough I sha’n’t be a quarter of an hour away.”
It was but half an hour, indeed, before Tom saw him returning, accompanied by a tall red-skin.
“This is a friend of mine, Tom. He was a chief of the Senecas, but his tribe are nearly wiped out, and he has been all his life a hunter, and there are few of us who have been much out on the plains who don’t know him. Chief, this is Straight Harry’s nephew I was telling you of, who has come out here to join his uncle. Sit down, we have got some deer-flesh. Tom here knocked one over on the run at two hundred and fifty yards by as good a shot as you want to see; while it is cooking we can smoke a pipe and have a chat.”
The chief gravely seated himself by the fire.
“What have you been doing since I last saw you up near the Yellowstone?”
“Leaping Horse has been hunting,” the Indian said quietly, with a wave of his hand, denoting that he had been over a wide expanse of country.
“I guessed so,” Jerry put in.
“And fighting with ‘Rappahoes and Navahoes.”
“Then you’ve been north and south?”
The Indian nodded. “Much trouble with both; they wanted our scalps. But four of the ‘Rappahoe lodges are without a master, and there are five Navahoe widows.”
“Then you were not alone?”
“Garrison was with me among the ‘Rappahoes; and the Shoshone hunter, Wind-that-blows, was with me when the Navahoes came on our trail.”
“They had better have left you alone, chief. Do you know the Ute country?”
“The Leaping Horse has been there. The Utes are dogs.”
“They are troublesome varmint, like most of the others,” Jerry agreed. “I was telling you Straight Harry is up in their country somewhere. Tom here is anxious to join him, but of course that can’t be. You have not heard anything of him, I suppose?”
“The Leaping Horse was with him a week ago.”
“You were, chief! Why did you not tell me so when I was saying we did not know where he was?”
“My white brother did not ask,” the chief said quietly.
“That is true enough, chief, but you might have told me without asking.”
The Indian made no reply, but continued to smoke his hatchet pipe tranquilly, as if the remark betrayed such ignorance of Indian manners that it was not worth replying to.
Tom took up the conversation now.
“Was it far from here that you saw him?”
“Five days’ journey, if travel quick.”
“Was he hunting?” Jerry asked.
“Hunting, and looking for gold.”
“Who had he with him?”
“Two white men. One was Ben Gulston. Leaping Horse had met him in Idaho. The other was called Sam, a big man with a red beard.”
“Yes, Sam Hicks; he only came back from California a few months back, so you would not be likely to have met him before. Were they going to remain where you left them?”
The Indian shook his head. “They were going farther north.”
“Farther north!” Jerry repeated. “Don’t you mean farther south?”
“Leaping Horse is not mistaken, he knows his right hand from his left.”
“Of course, of course, chief,” the miner said apologetically; “I only thought that it was a slip of the tongue. Then if they were going farther north they must have come back in this direction.”
“They were on the banks of the Big Wind River when Leaping Horse met them.”
“Jerusalem!” the miner exclaimed. “What on airth are they doing there? Why, we thought they had gone down to the west of the Colorado. I told you so, chief, when I talked to you about it; and instead of that, here they are up in the country of the ‘Rappahoes and Shoshones.”
“They went south,” the Indian said quietly, “and had trouble with the Utes and had to come back again, then they went north.”
“Ah, that accounts for it. I wonder Harry didn’t send word to Pete Hoskings that he had gone up to the Big Wind River. I ain’t heard of there being any gold in that region, though some think that coming down through the big hills from Yellowstone Valley on the northwest, metal might be struck.”
“Going to look for gold a little,” the chief said, “hunt much; not stay there very long, mean to go down south again after a bit. Leaping Horse go with them.”
“Oh, I see. The Utes had come upon them, and they knew that if they stopped there they would lose their scalps sooner or later, so they came up here and made north for a bit to hunt and fossick about in the hills, and then go back when the Utes had quieted down.”
The chief nodded.
“Well, well, that alters the affair altogether. Whereabouts did you leave them?”
“Near the Buffalo Lake.”
“Don’t know it. Where does it lie?”
“On a stream that runs into the river from the west, from a valley running up near Fremont’s Buttes. They were going up so as to follow the Riviere de Noir, and then either strike up across the hills to the Upper Yellowstone, or go out west and come down over the Grosventre range on to the Wyoming range, and then down through Thompson’s Pass, or else skirt the foot-hills on to the Green River.”
“Waal, chief, I reckon that among all those hills and mountains, one would have just about the same chance of lighting on them as you would have of finding a chipmunk in a big pine-forest.”
“Couldn’t find,” the chief said, “but might follow. If they go fast never catch them; if wait about, hunt beaver, look for gold and silver, then might come up to them easy enough, if ‘Rappahoes not catch and kill. Very bad place. Leaping Horse told them so. White brother said he think so too; but other men think they find gold somewhere, so they go on. They have got horses, of course. Three horses to ride, three horses to carry beaver-traps and food. Leaping Horse came back here to sell his skins. He had promised to meet a friend here, or he would not have left Straight Harry, who is a good man and a friend of Leaping Horse. Three men not enough in bad country.”
“Do you think there would be any chance of my finding them?” Tom asked eagerly.
A slight gleam of amusement passed over the Indian’s face.
“My brother is very young,” he said. “He will be a brave warrior and a great hunter some day, but his eyes are not opened yet. Were he to try he would leave his scalp to dry in the ‘Rappahoes’ lodges.”
“That is just what I told him, chief. It would be sheer madness.”
The Indian made no reply, and Jerry turned the conversation.
“You don’t drink spirits, chief, or I would go and get a bottle from the fort.”
“Leaping Horse is not a madman,” the Indian said scornfully, “that he should poison his brain with fire-water.”
“Yes; I remembered, chief, that you had fallen into our ways and drink tea.”
“Tea is good,” the Indian said. “It is the best thing the white man has brought out on to the plains.”
“That is so, chief, except tobacco. We did not bring that; but I reckon you got it from the Spaniards long ago, though maybe you knew of it before they came up from the south.”
The meat was now cooked, and Tom took it off the fire and handed the pieces on the ramrod, that had served as a spit, to the others, together with some bread, poured out the tea from the kettle, and placed a bag of sugar before them. There was little talk until after the meal was over. Then the Indian and Jerry smoked steadily, while Tom took a single pipe, having only commenced the use of tobacco since he had left Denver. Presently the Indian arose.
“In the morning I will see my white friends again,” he said, and without further adieu turned and walked gravely back to the fort.
“He is a fine fellow,” Jerry said, after the Indian had left him. “You must have a talk with him one of these days over his adventures among the ‘Rappahoes and Navahoes, who are both as troublesome rascals as are to be found on the plains. An Indian seldom talks of his adventures, but sometimes when you can get him in the right humour you may hear about them.” “He talks very fair English,” Tom said.
“Yes; he has been ten years among us. He was employed for two or three years supplying the railway men with meat; but no Indian cares to hunt long in one place, and he often goes away with parties of either hunters or gold-seekers. He knows the country well, and is a first-rate shot; and men are always glad to have him with them. There is no more trusty red-skin on the plains, and he will go through fire and water for those whom he regards as his special friends. I should say he is about the one man alive who could take you to your uncle.”
“Do you think he would?” Tom asked eagerly.
“Ah, that is another matter; I don’t know what his plans are. If he is engaged to go with another party he will go, for he would not fail anyone to whom he had made a promise. If he isn’t engaged he might perhaps do it. Not for pay, for he has little use for money. His hunting supplies him with all he wants. It gives him food, and occasionally he will go with a bundle of pelts to the nearest town, and the money he gets for them will supply him with tea and tobacco and ammunition, and